June 20, 2024
Finance

Biden stinks at being Trumpy


During a recent interview with Time, President Joe Biden complained that the media isn’t fully covering the devastating military losses Russia is suffering at the hands of Ukrainian forces and the American weapons they’re using.

“The Russian military has been decimated,” Biden said. “You don’t write about that. It’s been freaking decimated.”

But the scarce mention of Russian losses comes from Biden himself. It’s hard to find any mention at all of Russia’s staggering reversals in Biden’s speeches, interviews, or social media posts.

This matters because Biden is not getting credit for a lot of things he thinks he should be, such as record job growth and a resurgent blue collar economy. Biden also wants voters to notice that he’s toughening up on China and taking new steps to stem migrant flows at the southwest border. On a few of his most vulnerable political issues, Biden is shifting to the center and even borrowing from Donald Trump’s playbook to convince voters he deserves a second term.

But Biden has one big problem Trump doesn’t: Voters don’t know what he has accomplished and don’t even seem to be listening to him. Trump, of course, is a master of the dark art of propaganda. He exaggerates, he shouts, he lies, he insults people who disagree with him, and when he really wants to make a point, he never shuts up about it. It works. When Trump wants people to think he stands for something, they think it.

Biden has gone Trumpy on immigration, recently signing an executive order limiting border crossings by migrants, for example, recalling Trump’s many efforts to keep foreigners out of the country. Biden also imposed tariffs on select categories of Chinese imports, echoing the Trump tariffs meant to stop China from “eating our lunch.”

President Joe Biden speaks during a Congressional picnic on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)President Joe Biden speaks during a Congressional picnic on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks during a congressional picnic on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

But adopting Trumpy policies without the Trumpy mouthpiece could backfire. Focus groups conducted by researcher Rich Thau show that swing voters in swing states — the people who decide election outcomes — don’t even know about Biden’s signature achievements, such as the massive infrastructure bill Biden signed in 2021 or the huge green energy package he signed in 2022. And those are people who consider themselves well-informed and plan to vote.

If Biden thinks new border policies will earn him some cred on immigration, or new tariffs will make voters think he’s tough on China, he’s assuming the electorate is sitting bolt upright and taking in all the details of his new policies. They’re not. It’s up to Biden to get them to notice, and his mild temperament leaves him at a disadvantage in the age of table-pounders.

Biden repeats many of the same lines in speech after speech: Job and economic growth have boomed under his presidency. Inflation is down but there’s still more work to do. His infrastructure and green energy plans will boost manufacturing. There’s a resurgence of labor unions.

There’s truth to all of this, but it’s not news when Biden says it the 20th or 50th or 100th time. It will be the same with China tariffs and immigration. Biden will work those policy pivots into his speeches. It will generate commentary and fact-checking and then hardly anybody will talk about it anymore.

We all know what Trump would do differently. He’d rev up the whole issue by repeatedly claiming his policies are accomplishing way more than they really are and that they’re the “best in the history of our nation,” one of his favorite formulations.

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If Trump were the one arming Ukraine, for instance, he’d never stop talking about bombing Russia into the Stone Age and single-handedly rescuing an ally from the vicious maw of Satan. Those weird posters depicting Trump as a superhero or Jesus figure would probably materialize, showing him holding a scepter as he looks down over Kyiv.

Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Loud: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Trump did this nonstop during his presidency. He claimed jobs and economic growth began to boom the moment he took office (false). He claimed Americans took home an extra $10,000 in income due to his policies (false). He took credit for an oil and gas boom that actually began with the fracking revolution several years before he took office. PolitiFact vetted more than 1,000 Trump statements and found 221 of them to be mostly or completely false, many of them involving the wonderful benefits of Trump policies that, in reality, didn’t add up to much.

Guess what? It worked. Trump scores much better than Biden on the economy even though his tax cuts did little for the middle class and his trade war with China actually raised costs for Americans. The number of border crossings rose under Trump, yet in polls he blows Biden away on his “handling” of immigration because he was always railing against immigrants and touting his border wall.

If you told Biden he was a poor Trump imitator, he’d probably chuckle and say, “Thanks for the compliment.” Biden strives to the be the anti-Trump, and that could work for him in the 2024 campaign, now that Trump is a convicted felon who has more baggage than ever. But if Biden wants to nab some possible Trump votes with Trumpy-sounding policies, he might have to start shouting a lot louder.

Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman.

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